Imma just leave these tools here…

Hello Saucy readers, great day right? Guess that depends on what you look like, where you’re from, who you love, what organs you have in your body, what your health is or was at any point in your life, what religion you’re connected to even in the most broad sense of the term, and if you need to get anything done or care about anyone.

 You don’t need another blog article freaking you out because I’m assuming you’re already freaked out. Me too. Also, there’s a lot to be said and I’m not the person to say all of it. Instead my Saucies, imma furnish you with a few “toolbox terms” I’m teaching my students this week. These tools come from a set of lessons I initially wrote three years ago but I bet if you try reallllllyyyy hard you can connect them to current events. Like, really current events.untitled

Let’s start with an easy one. Xenophobia is a deep and irrational hatred towards “foreigners” or an unreasonable fear of unfamiliar people and their cultural objects and traditions. A belief that qualities such as geographical linage, immigrant status, or forms of culture constitute an immutable interpersonal difference springs from xenophobia. The examples I use in class are the popular justifications for not accepting refugees into a country, especially if those refugees were like, Jewish or are say, I dunno, Syrian.

Let’s step it up. Cultural racism stems from constant images and messages that affirm the diversity of White people and the inferiority, singularity, or negative stereotypical qualities of people of Color. As Beverly Tatum says, “if we live in an environment in which were are bombarded with stereotypical images in the media, are frequently exposed to the ethnic jokes of friends and family members, and are rarely informed of the accomplishments of oppressed groups, we will develop the negative categorizations of those groups that form the basis of prejudice” (“Defining Racism” 125). The examples I use in my class are the constant stream of news images and stories depicting Black protesters as little more than dangerous rioters and scary looters. Perhaps you might be able to think of recent examples where whole populations are characterized in a singular and derogatory way and then that pervasive cultural image is levied to forward political campaigns or federal mandates? Just a thought.

Yer gonna love this one: sincere fictions. People’s negative beliefs about other groups (generally ethnic/racial but can be extended to identities like sexual orientation) are usually unfeigned (i.e. sincerely believed) because a person in power has presented culturally racist or xenophobic statements as if they were truth or fact. Sad to say, but we usually trust authorities/news sources to tell us the truth or at least work with an objective baseline of facts. We also usually assume people in power are smart and educated. Or at least that they are smart and educated enough to make sure that what they say is factual and provable. The example I use in class is a statement called the “The Marriage Vow”–endorsed six years ago by Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum–that said that “a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than [one born in 2008].” This statement is easily disprovable but some people believed it because two powerful politicians endorsed its validity.

Perhaps there are more recent examples where a prominent figure said [tweeted] something and people believed it, not necessarily because those people where malicious or dumb, but because they assumed the person in power was likely saying [tweeting] facts or objective statements, or at least fact-checking what was being said [tweeted]? Just a thought.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-1-23-42-pm

I don’t see how this picture is in any way connected to anything I literally just said

Just for kicks, lets do two more I threw into the lesson mix this week. Biopolitics: when social and political power (often the state’s power) is wielded over life through the regulation of bodies, human processes, and bodily freedoms/movements. Abortion is a great example because the government seeks to control the bodies and lives of reproducing populations in every capacity-not just if bodies can choose to have (or not have) an abortion, but also under what conditions (rape, incest, life of mother), and where/how (geography, timeline, tests or mandatory statements). Biopolitics is also strongly connected to who can access health care, which body practices are illegal or legal, and which people can move around freely versus which are detained. At say, airports.

Last one, and it’s a goodie. Necropolitics is a context where the choice or line between life and death is made by the state or those in social and political power. Necropolitics is more than just the state’s authority to kill (for example, through the death penalty.) It also involves the state’s authority to invoke contexts of living death (the devaluation of a person’s life to the point of death) like slavery, and to expose people to physical death (like putting people in a situation where their death is imminent, or not helping people out of a situation where their death is imminent).

The biopolitical regulations of bodies in the form of say, temporary detainments, can easy slide into the necropolitical regulation of people into say, concentration camps.

To give a name to a social structure of power is a critical first step towards contesting and changing it. So let’s see if you can see and then name these terms in action, perhaps by checking your Twitter feed for 5 minutes any hour or day of the week. Bet you can!

tumblr_mrkc8mrgr91rivkoko1_250

If she did, she would be saying “intersectional feminist movementS” and she would be wearing glitter. We all do.

Posted in academia, feminism, intersectionality, politics | Leave a comment

Young Adult book reviewers are the only thing winning 2017 right now

I read Young Adult books. I know. It started with the Hunger Games, which is completely legit. I moved into Divergent and they made that into movies [now TV movies, sorry Shailene Woodley] so that was ok. Then suddenly I was purchasing anything that was YA and written as a series and set in a different world and had a female protagonist that goes on adventures. Many of these books are not really that good. But I have my reasons for reading them, reasons connected to what a student once wrote on a class evaluation: “everything we talk about in class is negative.” I teach social sciences, so we analyze society. Society often sucks. Even when we talk about cool things like America’s Next Top Model, I make them identify and explain how the show perpetuates racist and neoliberal ideologies. I know. But media awareness is an important skill. You can love what you love but you must always love with your eyes open.

Anyway, I read Young Adult fantasy series books because sometimes you just can’t read more about Aleppo and the prison industrial complex. Sometimes you just gotta’ read about a 17 year old girl with like magic powers or whatever. This is embarrassing but not really my point. Let me get to my point. Right after this next paragraph.
6281d3ba-5016-4b99-8b28-3b9d6a31d229Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series is one I read. This is a very popular series but Maas is writing for a YA audience (and I guess some college professors too) so the characters can do immature things, and also there are plot holes sometimes, and there is a lot of crying. Lots of people cry. Oh and everyone has magic. And everyone is beautiful. And everyone is either 18 or 500 years old. I just read the newest book, Empire of Storms, because that’s what I do. Everything blew up at the end and I was so pissed that I actually went online to check reviews and see if other readers felt the same.

Here’s where I look like an asshole and the future looks a little brighter. Judging from the profile pictures, I’d wager most of the reviews I read were by teen girls and young women. Were they pissed at the ending like me? Nah, they were pissed at the lack of racial and sexual diversity, and the derisive sexual content. I know.

“This book has no diversity whatsoever. Every single main character is straight and white af [as fuck]. SJM [Sarah J. Maas] has like 50 pov characters between her two series, you’d think some of them would be a little different right? Right? Wrong” (Kimi).

Many criticisms were about how almost all the characters in this book were described as white people. Reviewers had iterations on this basic point: if the author could create a world with witches and fairies and magic, why couldn’t she describe like five of her bazillion main characters as something other than “golden” skinned? Excellent point, young reviewers. Double points for the phrase “straight and white af.”

tumblr_o5v32nkrk71uznf2po1_1280

af

“in her previous books we’ve seen only one woman of color and no gay or lesbian person. Whether the publisher insisted or she herself decided to show ’em all, but EoS [Empire of Storms] is full of queers. And all of them are dead or unimportant and shows up only in one or two sentences. Plus the only bi character romances a woman. So what was that? ‘I have gays and lesbians! Fuck off!’ scream? Diversity for the sake of diversity is a mock. If you don’t feel like developing queer-relationships than stay away from this theme” (Katerina).

Many reviewers noted how only a few marginal characters had queer sexual identities or desires, and only one main character declares a bi-sexual identity but then is specifically put into a heterosexual romance. Double points to this reviewer for shredding fake liberalism: the inclusion of queer characters as a nod to diverse representation but without treating their relationship stories as valuable as heterosexual pairings. Visibility does not necessarily mean progressiveness. Very excellent point, young reviewers.

“I’m not against these [sex] scenes, but also didn’t need them. They didn’t really fit the tone and even felt a bit forced into the story in several places. I actually wish the page time had been spent elsewhere. (So basically, YES, you can skip them and it won’t affect anything). If the sexual content is what’s stopping you from reading this story, the pages in the US hardcover to skip are…” (Cait).

Overwhelmingly, reviewers said the harlequin romance-esque love scenes simply got in the way of the storytelling. I’m still working through why so many books written for a young female audience have these sex scenes, but it’s clearly connected to how the media so often handles young women’s bodies and desires. In our society, young women are told that they should long for the objectifying sexual attentions of men. Of course, young women are punished for being sexual (that includes reading sex scenes), but there is an overarching cultural ideology that says young women want to be sexy and desired because they know these qualities will transform them into socially powerful adults. So I suspect these harlequin romance-esque sex scenes are encoded into young women’s literature because media producers assume their readership identifies with the female protagonists, and thus will want the female protagonists to be highly sexually desired by men, and thus powerful women.

The sex scenes were not “rape romancey” or otherwise sexually humiliating (although I have problems with certain gross verbs and adjectives Maas uses). Many reviewers simply noted that that they added little to the plot and could the author use that space to work more on character development and battle scenes? Double points to this reviewer for actually including the page numbers of the scenes so people can just skip over them.

I spend about three months in my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies class teaching college students how to do this exact type of critical work, and also why it’s important to practice apprehending the complexities of a given social situation, to hone the tools necessary to make educated, layered evaluations. Students can still love America’s Next Top Model, but they never get to watch it again without awareness.

I don’t want to imply that I thought teens and young adults couldn’t come up with these criticisms, only that I was surprised by the sharpness and ease with which so many hit these points in otherwise generally positive book reviews. That is, that they were able to love what they loved but with their eyes open to critical issues of race, sexual orientation, and sexual representation. 2016 was a hard year, and no doubt 2017 will get harder. But my faith in the future has moved up a notch.

Posted in books, popular culture, queer, race, sexiness, young adult | 1 Comment

The Pink Tax is Some Sex Difference Bullshit

A while back, I was in the market for a day hiking backpack. I needed something that could carry more clothing and more food than my current pack. I settled on two packs that had the same water capacity, same size number, basically same pocket, strap, and pole-carry features. One was red-gray and the other was “reflecting pond/Andean toucan” color. Guess which was the “women’s” backpack (clearly denoted by the “women’s symbol” on the description tag)? Now guess which was $15 more?

I went to a local outdoor store that sold both packs for the different prices and asked the manager what the fuck was the difference. I assumed he would tell me the women’s pack had special cushions for my ovaries or extra pockets for my many, many tampons. He said the only notable difference was that the red-gray pack, the “men’s” pack (so called  on Amazon), was one inch longer. The men’s pack was made slightly longer in the torso because all men are taller than women. ALL OF THEM. Because I’m tall, the manager recommended I buy the men’s pack as it would actually fit better. I got to save $15 and get one more inch of space, which was the whole fucking reason for getting a new pack. Yay me! But also, fuck cultural assumptions of sex difference that result in bullshit like the pink tax.

Exhibit #1: cultural binarism, or the idea that binary sex difference (male or female) is the most important difference in the universe and that’s why we have to separate bathrooms and locker rooms and toy aisles and backpacks. Sex difference is basically this “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, every single person has a specific and unique body with specific features and unique capacities. And even though human bodies are largely the same and function largely the same, bodies do have biological and genetic differences. Like I’m taller than some and thinner than others. So the deal with sex difference is that it presumes the sex assigned to your unique body (generally based on genital appearance, but also sometimes hormones, gonads, and chromosomes) makes you fundamentally different from some people and fundamentally the same as other people.

96a

I’m pretty sure all ladies basically have this inside them. It’s why we like pink so much. Genetics.

I’m a lot taller than some people and that can be a significant physical difference but we don’t see height as a fundamental difference. That’s why we don’t have bathrooms and locker rooms organized by height. BUT WHAT IF WE DID??? We have this idea that men and women shouldn’t use the same bathroom because they’ll be having sex in there or be sexually stalked or it will be the end of the world or something because ANARCHY. Caveat: some people do weird and fucked up shit in bathrooms. But this cultural binarism argument—that men and women are fundamentally different and thus need separate bathroom spaces—could really be made for any difference. Watch me do it:

  • We need to divided bathrooms by height: over 5’9 bathrooms and under 5’9 bathrooms. People above a certain height are able to look over stall doors and peep; people under a certain height are able to look under stall doors and creep. We need separate bathroom spaces because this critical physical difference leads to uncomfortable, sexually dangerous situations.

Watch me do it again:

  • We need to divide bathrooms by age: over 50 bathrooms and under 50 bathrooms. People over 50 take more time and thus need more space. They are are also more susceptible to being sexual victims of the high-sex drive of the under 50 crowd. We need separate bathroom spaces because this critical physical difference leads to uncomfortable, sexually dangerous situations.

Just to be clear, this “fundamental body difference leading to sexually threatening or compromising situations” is the same argument used to keep Black people out of White bathrooms.

Exhibit #2: the pink tax,* or when a product or service for women is arbitrarily more expensive than an equivalent product or service for men. The pink tax might extend to when female-body products like birth control pills or tampons are more luxury-taxed or harder to obtain than men’s similar products. But often the pink tax is way more sexistly overt: it’s when identical products like razors or services like dry cleaning are just different prices for men and women. So that pink razor sitting in the “women’s shave needs” aisle is a dollar more than the gray razor made by the same company but sitting in the “men’s shave needs” aisle. Or a lady is charged more for the blouse she took to the dry cleaners even though it’s the same fabric and ACTUALLY LESS MATERIAL than the men’s shirt. The pink tax is some arbitrary bullshit but it feeds on cultural binarism aka the idea that women and men are fundamentally different and thus cannot use the same products and services even if there’s little difference in the actual product or service.

160203124959-pink-tax-780x439

So back to my pack. According to the store manager, the major difference was length; the men’s pack was designed for a slightly taller body. Yet instead of labeling the packs according to height difference, they were labeled according to sex difference. (We were left to fill in the blanks with stereotypes about all men being naturally taller and thus in need of man pack and women as generally shorter cause vaginas or something.) The ladies pack was then sold at a higher price even though there was literally less pack. And women, who historically earn less than men in the U.S., have to pay more for less, unless a kind store manager tells them the skinny and gives them an awesome local’s discount to boot.

The pink tax is some sex difference bullshit.

 

*I didn’t even know this term until a student came to my office and talked to me about it. You’re never too old or too educated to find out something new and fucked up about the world, and then process the shit out of it.

Posted in culture, gender, society | Leave a comment

(Don’t Call Clinton a) Bitch, Please

The New York Times says we should want a bitch in the White House. Or, a little more specifically (and a little less clickbaity), writing for the New York Times opinion page, Andi Zeisler of Bitch Media proposes embracing the term that’s been so maliciously lobbied against Hillary Clinton. Zeisler’s argument is that Clinton’s called a bitch because she doesn’t put being likable above all else and because she has presidential-level tenacity and ambition. Zeisler evokes Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s 2008 declaration that “bitches get stuff done” and asks “what if that’s not a bad thing”?

151023112135-hillary-clinton-benghazi-hand-large-169

I like where Zeisler’s going but, before jumping on the bitch bandwagon, I want to take a little stroll down language, meaning, and reclamation lane.

Most words are what we in the biz call sign systems or sign chains: they communicate complex and extended meanings. Take the term “public bathroom.” In the U.S., a public bathroom probably won’t have a bath but we all know what’s in there and what it’s for. Here’s another one: “9/11.” It’s just two numbers. But for those in the U.S. of a certain age, these two numbers immediately evoke images of death, destruction, fear, loss, and war. The meaning tied into those numbers is much more than just the sum of the numbers themselves. Here’s one more: “feminist.” It characterizes a person who has particular social and institutional views, politics, and goals. And yet when a person is publicly called a feminist, it might have little to do with her political leanings and everything to do with how she is perceived as shrill, unfeminine, opinionated, and man-hating. In other words, a bitch.

Some words are loaded with histories of abuse and degradation. Some words were created for the explicit purpose of dehumanizing and justifying oppression. You know that old kiddy rhyme “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurts me”? That rhyme is BULLSHIT. Words can absolutely hurt. They can invalidate. They can belittle. And, very significantly, some words are used to incite and justify violence.

Reclamation is the project of taking the shitty part of a particular term and dispersing it, then replacing with more positive stuff. Reclamation has been fairly successful with the term “queer.” Sixty years ago (let’s get real, twenty years ago), queer was not something you could just call people. Or actually you could if you wanted to demean or belittle that person. Today, I teach for a Queer Studies program; in my classroom, the term is not only acceptable, it’s considered more appropriate than some other terms. Queer is now often used to give people respect and humanity, to create inclusion. My 69-year-old mother used to avoid using that term like the fucking plague, and she now proudly tells people her daughter teaches queer theory. Queer shows the power of reclamation.

Now let’s look at the N-word. That’s right, I’m not even gonna write it. That’s because this term has not been successfully reclaimed. Mass inhumanity and violence happened alongside this term and, while some have tried to bend it toward an inclusion and family meaning, it’s not been able to fully shake the filthy legacy. It’s unusable by ethical White people, and still controversial when used by Black people (see Larry Wilmore’s Correspondents Dinner speech).*

I don’t know exactly why some terms have a chance at reclamation and others just don’t. I’m guessing it’s an intricate balance of the histories and legacies poured into the word plus time, distance, and respect. My point is this: reclamation has a ton of potential but isn’t a guaranteed success. Some words never shake free.

Back to the bitch. Zeisler acknowledges that people are never gonna stop calling Clinton a bitch (cause haters, also cause gendered expectations). So Zeisler’s like, cool let’s just fucking reclaim this term then. Let Clinton embrace her bitchness, let the term signal her get-things-done attitude and her ceiling-breaking pathway to the Presidency. Zeisler urges us to frame Clinton as “the bitch America needs.”

images

I found this by typing “Clinton bitch meme” into Google images. If I can give you one piece of advice today: don’t do this.

Great. Cool. I like it. In theory. But also, bitch is deeply historically and socially situated. It doesn’t just name a tough person who doesn’t fall into gender line, it’s systematically used to invalidate women by dehumanizing them, effectively reducing them to a breeding animal in need of control. Bitch is also frequently used to create an allowable context for violence, rape, and murder against women. That’s why every Law & Order creeper says: “the bitch got what she deserved.”

Not everything is equivalent, but let’s play the equivalent game. If mass publics were systematically calling President Obama a “porch monkey” (yes, I know some did and yes, I know, GROSS), I wonder how many articles would declare that he should embrace and reclaim the term because his Blackness is a strength and a valuable asset to his Presidency. I’m guessing that few people asked President Obama to channel his strength and value through a really disgusting racist term.

There’s power in flipping negatives into positives and simultaneously justifying behavior that doesn’t fall into stratified gender ideals. But I don’t know if we can just flip the script on bitch, or if Clinton should feel obligated to embrace this label as something that empowers her and validates her kick-assness. I’m not sure if bitch can be totally reclaimed, and I’m not totally convinced it should be.

But this is just one bitch’s opinion.

 

*rather than saying “the N-word,” some of my Black students will replace the term with the word “ninja.” I don’t know exactly why this happens, but it’s clever-as-fuck.

Posted in culture, feminism, gender, popular culture, queer, society | Leave a comment

We Should All Be Feminists (Even Our Presidents)

Barack Obama is a feminist. So says Barack Obama in a self-authored article for Glamour. This is big news, not just because he’s a man but because he’s a famous and powerful man: things that are rarely connected to people who identify as feminists. Ok, so he gets his cookie (even though, as a close friend reasoned, “all men should be feminists anyway”). But they don’t because masculinity or whatever. So cookie given.barack-obama-feminist-375x500I’m not as interested in President Obama’s self-definition as a feminist as I am in what he thinks a feminist is. You see, those in the public eye have been notoriously bad at explaining feminism. At worst, feminists are characterized as man-hating women. At best, narratives follow that feminism is about the equal right of women to work as, say, sexy lethal assassins. As you know, every time a celebrity misidentifies postfeminism as feminism, a feminist media scholar dies (inside, at least).

Some public figures such as (my forever crush) Chimamanda Adichie accurately explain feminism as the work of people who acknowledge and address complex, interconnected issues including gender boxes, socioeconomics, sexuality, violence, work, parenting, race, culture, and domestic relations. But no matter how much Adichie slayed her “We Should All Be Feminists” TedTalk, it won’t get the attention or audience that a Glamor article about feminism written by a sitting male president will. So my question o’ the day: what exactly did President Obama tell us feminism is?

Here’s his article. Read it. It’s good. Ok, there’s a bit too much American exceptionalism and progress narrative. That’s those statements of, gee ladies, look how far we’ve come, you went from being secretaries and housewives to astronauts! There’s certainly some truth to that, but it’s a narrative that ignores issues and inequalities tied to race, socioeconomic status, and citizenship. Many Women of Color were barred from those secretarial positions, and some women didn’t have the socioeconomic standing to be housewives. A White, upper-class woman may become the next U.S. President, but deep and systemic issues around work and domestic opportunity still exist. You know that “women make 79 cents to the man’s dollar thing?” White women make 79 cents to a White man’s dollar. Women of Color, transwomen, and undocumented women make wayyyyy less.

I was prepared for a sitting U.S. president to give me the exceptionalism and progress narrative thing. What I was not expecting was the clear and thoughtful way he addressed masculinity, intersectionality, non-hegemonic identities, and privilege. These are critical aspects of feminist inquiry and activism. So, according to Barack Obama, who is a feminist?

A feminist is a person who acknowledges masculinity is a construct too. In discussions about the constricting and stratified box that is femininity, we often fail to mention how femininity is constructed as a binary contrast to masculinity. President Obama names that dichotomy:“the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to keep changing the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs.” He also articulates how masculinity is constructed via a particular type of “toughness” or “coolness” that forces men to be “assertive” (aka violent) and prevents them from “shedding a tear” or taking on full-time parenting roles. In short, gender boxes fucking suck. We’re getting marginally better at verbalizing those feminine/female boxes, but male/masculine boxes are just as stifling and damaging.

A feminist is a person who acknowledges that gender intersects with other categories of self. Both Barack and Michelle Obama are good at articulating this, but it bears repeating: gender does not exist in a vacuum and not all women are the same. In his article, President Obama notices and acknowledges that Michelle faces unique and specific gender stigmas and obstacles: “we need to keep changing a culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color. Michelle has often spoken about this. Even after achieving success in her own right, she still held doubts; she had to worry about whether she looked the right way or was acting the right way—whether she was being too assertive or too ‘angry.’” The Combahee River Collective would agree.

barack-michelle-obama

Hey Girl, I acknowledge your overlapping intersectional inequalities.

A feminist is a person who acknowledges that, while all people are subject to the sex/sexuality binary, not all people fit that binary. Even very good social justice campaigns tend to employ discourses such as “men need to support their wives.” This presumes that people are cisgender and heterosexual (men and women/men marry women). I know, this is an overwhelmingly dominant and unquestioned belief about bodies and desires. But dominant and unquestioned beliefs are not always true. Actually, there’s a lot of variety in terms of bodies and sexualities, but that variety has been stuffed into those same fucking binary and dichotomous gender boxes. Twice in his essay, President Obama notes that “gender stereotypes affect all of us, regardless of our gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation” and “forcing people to adhere to outmoded, rigid notions of identity isn’t good for anybody—men, women, gay, straight, transgender, or otherwise.” As a queer studies scholar and a feminist, I’d like to see a whole lot more of this. But acknowledging this part of feminism is an important part of being a feminist. So it’s a start.

A feminist is a person who acknowledges their own positions of privilege. Audre Lorde says that when People of Color/women have to continually explain racism/sexism to White people/men, it saps their time and energy that they should be using on themselves/their own liberation. Peggy McIntosh says that people with racial or gender privileges have a responsibility to see and name their own privileges. Several times in this essay, President Obama notes his own gender privileges vis-à-vis Michelle. He notes that few people questioned his choice of occupation even though it took him away from his family for long periods of time. He notes his ability to support his family on his own time schedule, even though it meant his female partner had to pick up whatever slack was left. He notes how men such as him are congratulated for changing their child’s diaper because it is framed as an aid rather than a duty. In short, he notes how he was able to succeed in part because of institutionalized gender privileges regarding work and family.

I must admit that I avoided reading this essay for two days because I was fairly certain President Obama would articulate that glossy, surface, faux version of feminism that is so often the pop culture best-case-scenario. And he did that a bit. But he also hit on several key ideas that are not only essential in any compete definition of feminism, but also critical for informing the actions of any feminist. We should all be feminists, and I agree that that President Obama is one too.

Posted in celebrity, culture, feminism, society | Tagged | Leave a comment

Feminist Consumerism is Goddamn Confusing

Have you seen this commercial? WATCH IT.

Ok, let’s discuss. This is from UK-based Bodyform, a company selling period pads and liners. It’s part of Bodyform’s Red.fit campaign, which is about encouraging women to be active even when menstruating. The commercial is getting a lot of media attention for one overtly expressed reason, and another that’s less clearly articulated but still significant.

#1: it’s a period commercial that shows blood.
Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 2.17.24 PM.pngUsually period commercials represent periods with blue liquid or ice tea or whatever else might be excellent stand-ins for expelled uterine lining. In this commercial, we’re not seeing expelled uterine lining (we know that periods are mainly not blood but expelled uterine lining, right?) but we are seeing bodies expelling a substance similar in color and viscosity (kind of) to periods.

#2: it’s a period commercial where women are doing real active shit rather than just chilling in a white room, or maybe swimming in a white bathing suit, or maybe getting ready for a romantic dinner date with hubby because everyone with periods is a cisgender heterosexual woman. Actually, it’s pretty cool that this commercial positively represents active female bodies and also positively represents the byproducts of that activity: dirt, blood, broken skin.

So these are two things to think about. And here are some other things to think about too.

#3: this is feminist consumerism. What is feminist consumerism you ask, because it sounds amazing!?! Actually, it’s capitalistic manipulation. It’s when a company gets you to buy their product by selling it via feminist or otherwise liberal and progressive messages and images about women. To be clear: the product does not have to align with feminism. The product might actually reinforce sexist ideas, or racist ideas, or limited ideas about gender. But we’re supposed to buy it anyway because of how its marketed. Here’s perpetrator numero uno:
doveDove sells beauty products. Women are supposed to buy beauty products to feminize themselves, make themselves pleasing to others, alter their bodies to better conform to hegemonic beauty standards. Here’s how Dove sells its beauty products:imagesYou’re perfect inside and out, don’t change. Except change how you smell and your natural oils and your wrinkles. Do it with Dove.

Ok, you get the picture. Feminist consumerism is the selling of something that might be entirely unrelated to feminist ideals or goals via words and images that our society associates with feminist ideals and goals.

#4: feminist ideals and goals are popularly depicted with that ol’ post-feminist chestnut “Girl Power.” Girl power women are strong, fit, ass-kickers, and desirably hegemonic too. This might be represented by, say, good looking, thin ciswomen trail-running or surfing or rock climbing. When these women get hurt, what do they do? They get up and continue on without crying or stopping to bandage that nasty head wound.

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 2.29.20 PM.png

…except the blood from a gaping head wound.

It is awesome that these women can be physically strong and really good at sports (and apparently medieval knightery as well). But that’s not the only vision of feminism, and it’s actually a pretty privileged version of feminist ideals too.

#5: last but not at all least: that cool-as-fuck background music is “Native Puppy Love” by the cool-as-fuck A Tribe Called Red: three Indigenous individuals who mix native music, often PowWow singing, chanting, and drumming, with dubstep. A Tribe Called Red is cool-as-fuck and you should learn more about them.

A Tribe Called Red is getting some commercial visibility here and I hope some dollars too. Their music is all about Indigenous people using their own local or culture-specific music and performance practices to create new art. Their work is also a means for native people to expose non-native people to native culture, instead of what usually happens, which is White people appropriating, reducing, and commodifying native culture. But also, A Tribe Called Red is not credited in the commercial. And whereas A Tribe Called Red use images in its videos and during shows that highlight native bodies or deconstruct White-created images of native bodies, this song is laid under images of what appear to be non-native women, many of whom are engaging in activities associated with colonization (ballet obv, but also the knight thing is a bit crusadey for me).

bodyform_blood

Welp, off to colonize brown people.

Conclusion: is this commercial super cool or super problematic? I dunno. It’s using feminist tropes to get me to consume pads. But pads are used for a physical rather than a beatification process, and they’re not really a trendy or super expensive product either. The commercial is associating women’s bodies with blood and dirt and injury, but we aren’t supposed to see this as vile or even unfeminine. The relationship between how we should feel about women doing bloody activities and women with periods is clear: it’s not gross, it’s awesome. But also, am I going to buy this product because I want to be one of those kick-ass, tough-as-nails, bloody, post-feminist ladies with expensive workout clothes and a soundtrack of cool PowWow dubstep as the background to my White cis life? I JUST DON’T FUCKING KNOW.

Every year I get bad evaluations from students who are pissed that I’ve told them “the social sciences doesn’t offer answers, only  questions.” Yes, they hate that. What it means is that value doesn’t always reside in the black or the white of a conclusion. There’s value in the ability to see and to name the gray, to understand what you’re consuming and why. Can I tell you to buy or not buy this product? To celebrate or revile it on social media? No. What I can offer you is all those critical thinking synapses we just built. And that’s cool too.

I can also offer you this:
tumblr_mxkacuyq8r1ruhto6o1_1280

YOU’RE WELCOME.

Posted in gender, popular culture, postfeminist, social media | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What the Fuck is Wrong With You, HBO’s Game of Thrones?

*Game of Thrones spoilers. Also spoilers about if Donald Trump is sexist. Spoiler: yes*

game-thrones

A few days ago, Donald Trump responded to a comment Secretary Clinton made  by emphasizing that she was shouting and shouting wasn’t womanly. This is sexist, obv. I’m sure Trump knew it was sexist because this thing about Clinton shouting had already come up and the media/Clinton supporters/Clinton had already explained why it’s a sexist thing to say. I think Trump said it precisely because it had already been vetted as sexist. That is, he said it to get a rise out of people and maybe appeal to sexist members of his constituency. Today I’m wondering this: are the producers of HBO’s Game of Thrones willfully ignorant of their continued sexism, or are they pulling a Donald Trump on me?

Let’s not beat around the bush: I enjoy Game of Thrones but it’s been pretty heavily criticized for it’s fucked up treatment of women. For every kick-ass Brienne or Arya scene, we get unnecessary shots of women’s naked bodies, often during scenes of sexual violence (I’ve argued here how dangerous this particular representation is). They’ve also transformed consensual sex acts from the books into rapes, denied they filmed a rape scene based on the very old and very tired “rape to consent” argument (see Steve Attewell eviscerate this here). And last season I wrote about how they manufactured a repeated rape and sexual torture of Sansa Stark plotline—just for funsies.

Game of Thrones has been blasted for these representations by the mainstream media, by bloggers, by fans that refuse to continue watching. So there’s a pretty palatable message out there: your treatment of women can really suck. Now, after watching the season six premiere, “The Red Woman,” I’m truly wondering if producers are willfully clueless or if they’re actively trying to push a misogyny angle.

What’s my Saucy beef with an episode unusually free of rapes and gratuitous nudity? In answer, let me tell you a little story about George R.R. Martin’s vision of Dorne. Like everywhere in the GRRM A Song of Ice and Fire world, bad shit goes down in Dorne. But unlike every other place in the books, the Dornish don’t ascribe to the ol’ gender hierarchy lineage bullshit. Women can be in charge and, if the oldest child is a woman, she’s the ruler. There’s more gender equality in Dorne, which is probably why there are so many hard-core female political players in Dorne. Arianne Martell and the Sand Snakes actually want to help Princess Myrcella claim her birthright to the Iron Throne, which they believe has been stolen from her by sexist Westerosi gender laws.

images

Yea it’s a political snake pit, but at least we don’t have that 79 cents to a man’s dollar bullshit.

HBO’s translation of this world: Arianne is rolled into Ellaria Sand. Ellaria wants to kill Myrcella as a fuck you to Cersei, even though it’s a terrible political move. The motivation for this is, of course, a man (sorry Bechdel test, not today). After Ellaria succeeds in revenge-killing Myrcella, she then kills the ruler of Dorne, a very sweet, gentle, disabled, protector of children. She stabs him in the heart. Why? Apparently he is a WEAK MAN (because he won’t revenge-kill a child) and WEAK MEN WILL NEVER RULE DORNE AGAIN HAHAHAHA. The Sand Snakes then butcher their sweet and innocent cousin Trystane JUST TO GET RID OF THAT WHOLE MARTELL MAN LINE HAHAHAHA.

GOT_MP_102015_EP601-6014_5B1_5D.0

Take that Dr Bashir!

Game of Thrones took strong political players who do rational things based on feminist-eque principles and made them into straw feminist caricatures. The straw feminist is a fallacy of a media representation, it’s a figure who calls herself a feminist but she’s not a feminist; she’s an irrational, man-hating shrew who wishes to suppress male power and men at all costs, give herself power over others, and hates all women who don’t follow her lead. She’s mean, loud, and generally out of control. The point of the straw feminist trope is to show how grotesque powerful women are, and how dangerous and destructive their irrational desires for equality and self-governance can be.

Game of Thrones has made Dorne into a place where powerful women  1) get into petty and ultimately really harmful cat fights and 2) do totally irrational things like murder their family/royalty for the sake of hating on and castrating “weak men.” It’s a sexist representation, and it’s a harmful one.

So thanks Game of Thrones, for an episode without gratuitous and sexualized rapes. Here’s your cookie. But also, fuck you for your construction of a very recognizable but also very empty and pejorative representation of Dornish women, and a twisted depiction of what women would do to a society that recognizes their equality and sovereignty. This representation is so blatantly twisted from its original intent, from George R.R. Martin’s own characterization, I just have to wonder… it is because not one writer or producer on this show has taken even an introductory level Women’s and Gender Studies course, or are they Donald Trumping me?

EP302

Brienne of Tarth is still my motherfucking jam

Posted in #MediaGettingItWrong, feminism, Game of Thrones, gender, television, Uncategorized, violence | Leave a comment